Donald Trump on Wednesday launched a furious last-minute bid on the streets of Washington to reverse his election defeat, as Joe Biden was set to be certified president with an added triumph of his Democratic Party on track to win full control of Congress.
In a scene unprecedented in US democracy, Trump rallied thousands of supporters outside the White House moments before Congress meets to affirm Biden’s November election victory — traditionally a formality, but one which Trump hopes will overturn the results.
Trump, rambling angrily with the occasional aside lauding his four-year tenure, warned “weak” Republicans not to certify Biden’s victory and put direct pressure on Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the session.
“We will never give up. We will never concede,” Trump told the cheering crowd, few wearing masks despite a spike in Covid cases.
“I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do,” Trump said, describing the US election as less honest than those of “Third World countries.”
But as Trump was still speaking and Congress opened the session, Pence – dutifully loyal to Trump over four years and quiet since the election – said he would not intervene.
“The Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence said in a statement.
“Four years ago, surrounded by my family, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which ended with the words ‘So Help me God,” he said.
“Today I want to assure the American people that I will keep the oath I made to them and I will keep the oath I made to Almighty God,” he added.
With political tensions running at fever pitch, there was a heavy police presence in downtown Washington and many business owners, fearing clashes, have boarded up doors and windows.
“I can’t say I respect our election process anymore,” said Gail Shaw, 76, who drove down from New Jersey for the rally. “We will take our nation back.”
Biden won more than seven million votes more than Trump in the November 3 election and leads him 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines elections.
Trump has repeatedly alleged without no evidence that there was vote-rigging but his team has not been able to prove a single case in court.
There is little chance that Trump will succeed in reversing the certification as Democrats already controlled the House of Representatives.
But more than 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives and at least a dozen Republican senators have vowed to object to certification – threatening to delay the proceedings late into the night – with lawmakers from Arizona filing a first objection as the joint session of Congress got underway.
The session of Congress comes one day after voters went to the polls in Georgia and appear to have handed a pair of stunning victories to the Democratic Senate candidates over Republican incumbents.
A Democratic sweep would result in a 50-50 split in the Senate with Democrats holding the tie-breaking vote in Vice President Kamala Harris.
Biden is due to be sworn in on January 20 and control of the Senate would give his Democrats the levers of power in the executive branch and both chambers of Congress and allow him to push through his legislative agenda.
“After the past four years, after the election, and after today’s election certification proceedings on the Hill, it’s time to turn the page,” Biden said in a statement.
“The American people demand action and they want unity. I am more optimistic than I ever have been that we can deliver both,” he said.
Democrat Chuck Schumer, who is poised to take over from Mitch McConnell as majority leader, said his first priority will be to pass $2,000 Covid relief checks for most Americans.
Democrats and Trump has supported the amount but McConnell killed the proposal in the Senate, saying $600 payouts approved last month were sufficient.
Georgia has been reliably Republican but Biden also won the state, by about 12,000 votes, and his win there is one of the victories that Trump has been contesting.
Trump’s unprecedented efforts to overturn the result have included making a call to Georgia’s secretary of state in which he said he wants to “find 11,780 votes” — one more than Biden’s margin of victory.
In Georgia, Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, the pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King once preached, was projected to defeat Republican Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old businesswoman appointed to the Senate in December 2019.
Warnock, 51, who would be just the third African-American to win a Senate seat from the South, was ahead by 53,430 votes out of nearly 4.4 million cast, or more than one percent.
Loeffler however refused to concede. “We’re going to make sure every vote is counted,” she told supporters.
In the other Georgia race, Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old video producer, claimed victory on Wednesday over Republican David Perdue.
“Georgia, thank so much for the confidence you have placed in me,” Ossoff said. “I will look forward to serving you.”
Perdue, 71, who was elected to the Senate in 2014, has also refused to concede.